Stigma a major hurdle to Covid-19 containment in rural Bihar
Rehana Khatoon, 60, a resident of Bhabhata village in Bihar’s West Champaran, developed a fever on May 6. She was given medicines after consulting a local doctor, but she collapsed and died as her oxygen levels plummeted drastically two days later. On the same day, Khatoon’s neighbour Rafique Ahmad, 70, died after complaining of breathlessness, fever and coughing. Radha Saha, 69, another resident of the village, died earlier on May 5 after showing similar symptoms.
A medical team, which was rushed to the village, detected four Covid cases in Kahtoon’s family and one in Ahmad’s.
Navin Prasad, the village head, said 12 people, including two children, have died after showing symptoms of Covid-19 over a fortnight and yet residents of Bhabhata remained averse to testing because of social stigma.
“After the medical team detected eight people as Covid-19 positive... and [they] were home quarantined, villagers, even with the symptoms, have refused to undergo the medical investigation.”
Another medical team that was sent to nearby Narkatiaganj also received a poor response. “Even the family members of some of those who have died got angry and refused to go for testing on one pretext or other. As a result, just 50 people could be tested during our two visits,” said Ravi Shankar Singh, a health official.
Many residents of other neighbouring villages said they have had no access to vaccines and testing. “No camp has ever organised in our village to administer vaccines,” said Maqsood Alam, a resident.
Ezaj Ahmad, another resident, said they do not know where to go for vaccination.
Brij Ram, a resident of Harpur village, said he will not get vaccinated citing the “harms”. Many of Ram’s neighbours echoed his concerns about the vaccination.
Sub-divisional magistrate Sahila Heer said there has been a poor response to testing in some pockets of Narkatiaganj subdivision, where these villages are located. “We have sent testing team twice to Manuwa Parsi [Panchayat]. But very few people turned up for Covid testing. ...we are administering [vaccines] nearly 100% as per the availability of the doses. But then, the villagers must come to vaccination centres for vaccination,” said Heer.
West Champaran has so far reported 1,6711 Covid-19 cases so far. “We are compiling the records of the testing block-wise,” said Arun Kumar Sinha, another health department official. He added it will as such be difficult to say how many tests have been conducted in rural areas.
District magistrate Kundan Kumar said they have adopted a two-pronged strategy including door-to-door surveys. “While doctors at control rooms are taking stock of patients over the phone, 1,428 teams visited 12,780 and 17,460 houses on May 16 and 17 to trace people with Covid-19 symptoms.” He added two mobile testing teams are also conducting testing in the containment zones.